October 18, 2012

Harnesses can kill

IT’S HARD TO KNOW how many sailors’ lives have been saved by safety harnesses. No disinterested authority seems to keep the relevant statistics. But I know for a fact that a harness killed one sailor and would have killed another had his boat not run aground.

The fatality occurred in a storm off the South African coast when a racing fleet was overwhelmed by a sudden southwesterly “buster.” A fairly beamy 26-foot sloop was capsized by a large wave and stayed upside down a long time. One of her cockpit crew couldn’t release the tether of his safety harness and drowned before she righted herself.

Yukio Hasebe, a singlehanded Japanese circumnavigator, almost drowned when he fell off his 30-foot sloop and was dragged alongside the hull. He couldn’t pull himself aboard. The boat sped on for hours, steered by her wind vane, while Hasebe fought for breath and got badly scraped by barnacles. He was bleeding profusely and almost exhausted when the boat grounded on a reef off Australia. He lost the boat but his life was saved.

Lessons: make sure you can detach your tether at your breast, even under strain; and think hard about how to get back on board if you go over the side.

And one last, but rather important thought: Whenever you can, use a tether short enough to prevent your falling overboard in the first place.

Today’s Thought
Oh pilot, ’tis a fearful night!
There’s danger on the deep.
— Thomas Haynes Bayly, The Pilot

Overheard at Starbucks:
“You wouldn’t think it now, but Fred used to be the same age as George Clooney.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Jack said...

John, you may be interested in this product from TeamO. Hopefully you can copy/paste the video of the PFD working.Now I understand this not fix for MOB but it would give some one a better chance..... Of course I 100% agree with you not to go over board in the first place !


John @ MLMRenaissance said...

I've never understood the practice of running jack lines down the side decks. Why not a single line down the center? 12' foot beam, 6' tether - very hard to go over the side...